By: Vicki Santillano
Christmas is celebrated in many parts of the world, and each culture brings its own beliefs and rituals into the festivities. Depending on what country you’re in, you could eagerly be awaiting January 1 and the arrival of a gift bearer by ship (Greece), or you could be heading to KFC for a romantic Christmas Eve dinner (Japan). But one tradition most can agree on, it seems, is the decorating of the tree. From bells to stars to giant inflatable donuts, see how holiday trees are trimmed from country to country.
This tree is in Lisbon, the capital of Portugal, in the Praça do Comércio (Square of Commerce). This popular tourist spot is a must-visit for anyone who’s in Lisbon during the holidays. The square features beautiful nativity scenes, and the surrounding buildings and trees are covered in lights.
It’s said that ruler Peter the Great brought the tree (called yolka) and other Western customs to Russia after a European vacation in 1697. When the Soviet regime came to power in 1917, it banned anything with religious affiliations, including Christmas, until the early 1990s. During that time, Russians shifted tree trimming and gift giving to New Year’s instead.
Due to Japan’s small Christian population, Christmas is more of a commercial holiday than a religious one there. But decorating trees at home and in places of business, like the mall (shown here), is an increasingly popular tradition, as is dining at KFC on Christmas Eve.
Ibirapuera Park, in São Paulo, Brazil, hosts this enormous, gorgeous tree. The ant-like people next to it show off its over-eighty-foot height. In December, other trees in the park are covered in lights, too, and there’s a famous fountain in the park that does a light show with Christmas colors.
The holidays fall during the summer season in Australia, yet the country’s version of Santa Claus still wears fur and rides in a sleigh. The plants that grow around this time of year, such as the Christmas bush, the Christmas orchid, and of course, the Christmas tree, are used decoratively.
Bucharest, the capital of Romania, is known for its giant wheat bundle– and candle-adorned Christmas tree. Christmas is the biggest holiday event of the year after Easter in this country. Tree decorating, caroling, and eating bread-like cakes (cozonaci) are celebration staples.
Galeries Lafayette is a department store in Paris that goes all out every holiday season, drawing in locals and tourists from all over with its fantastic window displays and ornate, larger-than-life Christmas tree inside.
Tradition in Mexico dictates that a nativity scene is the central adornment in homes, but now it’s common to include a decorated tree near the scene. Family trees are usually artificial and on the small side, but bigger trees are found in public areas.
It’s said that the practice of Christmas tree–trimming is rooted in German culture, though ancient Romans also put candles and small gifts on trees during winter solstice. Decorating the tree isn’t a family affair by tradition; instead, the children stay in another room while the parents adorn the tree. Once it’s ready and the presents are under the tree, the children can view it.
Christmas in Canada is very similar to Christmas in the United States, except that Canadians have a holiday right afterward called Boxing Day. Tree ornaments are similar to those in the United States, as well, with angels or stars being the usual tree toppers. Presents are left by Santa Claus, or in the French-speaking parts of Canada, Père Noël.
Trees didn’t used to be a part of holiday celebrations, but in recent years, both real and artificial trees have been popping up more in Greek homes. The old custom was to decorate a boat, since the Greek Christmas gift bringer, Agios Basilis, is also the patron saint of sailors.
New York gets its world famous Rockefeller Center tree, typically a Norway spruce, delivered all the way from Maine. There’s a whole ceremony centered on the lighting of the tree, which involves thirty thousand environmentally friendly LED lights and a Swarovski crystal star on top.